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From the orchestra to the NRC

physicsSpotlight on Cynthia (Landowski) Jones, PhD ’81, Physics

It took a fractured wrist from a toga party at Augsburg and a J-term course in physics to persuade Cyndi Jones to enter the field of science. In the fall of 1977, this talented young woman came to Augsburg on a music scholarship to play the clarinet. She planned to pursue a career in classical clarinet and performance. However, in the January term between her first and second years, Cyndi took a Physics for the Life Sciences course from Mark Engebretson and explored the relationship between music, physics, and math. “I got a 4.0 in the class,” she said, “and the subject was fascinating and exciting.”

Seeing her potential, Engebretson encouraged Cyndi to take the physics fall line-up in her sophomore year. While taking both science and music courses, Cyndi auditioned and played a few times in the pit orchestra at the Guthrie Theater, taught swimming lessons at the hospital across from Augsburg, played in the Little Minneapolis Orchestra, and worked in the bursar’s office at Augsburg to help pay her tuition. “My grades suffered a bit because I was so busy,” she said, but she kept on working.

Then a fractured wrist forced Cyndi to take a break from the clarinet. “You don’t make a lot of money auditioning and playing backup in an orchestra,” she said, “and I began to wonder how I would ever pay back my student loans.” By her junior year, she had given up her music classes and pursued physics full time.

In 1981, Cyndi became the third woman ever to graduate with a degree in physics from Augsburg College. She said her professors never doubted her abilities, even though she wasn’t a 4.0 student. “My physics professors always had time for me,” she said. “Their doors were always open.”

After graduation, Cyndi taught health physics in courses at Oak Ridge Associated Universities in Tennessee. Teaching built her confidence as a scientist, she said, and opened doors for her to pursue further education. Teaching also introduced her to Rick Jones, a student she met in Tennessee, who would eventually become her husband.

In order to be near Rick, a native Californian, Cyndi delayed her graduate studies at Georgia Tech and worked for one and a half years as a resident reactor and medical health physicist in the Radiation Safety department at UCLA. This work provided the opportunity for Cyndi to engage in hands-on work in reactor and medical physics.

Cyndi completed her Master’s in Health Physics at Georgia Tech in 1986 and then entered government service as a physicist in the Center for Radiation Research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In 1988 she joined the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), where Cyndi said she’s had many challenging opportunities to conduct research and to develop new initiatives associated with nuclear security, safeguards, and radiological protection.

In 1994 she received one of the highest honors in the federal system – the NRC Meritorious Award for Health Physics Excellence.

Currently, Cyndi is NRC’s Senior Technical Advisor for Nuclear Security where she is responsible for authoritative technical advice, assistance, and support on complex technical issues related to nuclear security, safeguards, and strategies against nuclear or radiological terrorism. Despite numerous career advances at the NRC, Cyndi says one of her proudest achievements was the completion of her doctoral degree in nuclear engineering in 1991. While working full-time, Cyndi took weekend and evening classes over a ten-year period at the University of Maryland, College Park to obtain her PhD.

Cyndi says her Augsburg education, with its wide variety of difficult but rewarding experiences, prepared her for a career in physics. She remembers and cherishes the encouragement and the one-on-one help from physics professors Ken Erickson and Mark Engebretson. “My education helped me shape and define in my own mind what area of interest best fit for me,” she said. “It prepared me for two different graduate schools years later and enabled me to build upon the confidence those professors bestowed upon me to achieve my dreams.”

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